Thursday, 31 March 2011

Springtime is Coming!, St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April

Soprano Janet McDonald
Clarinettist Phil Bonser
and Pianist Margaret Chave
at Glenorchy United Reformed Church
Wednesday 23rd March
On Saturday night this week there will be a free concert to raise money for the Shelter Box appeal.  In addition to their many projects around the world, providing basic survival equipment to disaster victims, Shelterbox has been providing much needed help in Japan since 15 March.  Enjoy a free concert on Saturday evening and hear how you can help the many victims of disaster around the world.

On Wednesday 23 March there was a lunchtime concert at Glenorchy United Reformed Church in Exmouth, also free to attend, to promote the charity and Saturday's evening concert.  Lunchtime concerts at Glenorchy are always of a very high standard and this was no exception.  A capacity audience enjoyed a preview of about half of what we can enjoy this Saturday at St Margaret's Church in Topsham.

The title of the lunchtime concert was 'Springtime is Coming'.  Instrumental music was provided by Margaret Chave at the Venables grand piano, Phil Bonser provided further beautiful sounds on his clarinet, and soprano Janet McDonald did the singing.

They started with Margaret's arrangement of Johnny Bannerman's Lewis Bridal Song, 'Mairi Bhan' ('Fair Mary'), dedicated to Mairi NicNaoimhin (Mary McNiven) and first sung at the Old Highlanders' Institute in Glasgow in 1935.  The following year it was translated from Gàidhlig into English by Hugh Roberton, and subsequently used as the basis for a highland dance in 1959.  Margaret's arrangement was very familiar, evoking the 'heel and toe' of highland dancing.  Janet's singing of the English words was high and light with just the right amount of Scottish accent added.

Next was a lovely song from John Rutter's collection of 11 traditional British and Irish songs  'The Sprig of Thyme' published in 1994, but based on much earlier folk songs.  The fourth song, also called 'The Sprig of Thyme', is from Lincolnshire and dates from 1689.  Janet and Margaret worked together well, with gentle piano and clear diction making it easy to follow the story.  Plants featured a lot, symbolising the dangers of false love.  The 'Maiden's Lament' recounts the visit of a gardener's son with a red rose (romance) and a blue violet (modesty) who steals the thyme (innocence) leaving only rue (regret!)

Gerald Finzi
Phil joined in with Margaret and Janet in turn for a series of pieces by early twentieth century British composer Gerald Finzi.  First Phil and Margaret joined forces for Finzi's only surviving chamber work, 'Five Bagatelles for clarinet and Piano'.  Despite the title this was a major work for Finzi, his Opus 23, which he finished during the Second World War after nearly twenty years work.  The Prelude and the concluding Fughetta are fast but the intervening Romance, Carol and Forlana are much slower.  Margaret and Phil limited themselves to the final Forlana and Fughetta.  The Forlana, soft and gentle as expected, gave way to a much more jazzy Fughetta with high trills in the solo clarinet passages.  There were also solo passages for Margaret on the piano, but Phil was given the real virtuoso work on his clarinet.  The last passage was played by Phil and Margaret together, with a conspiratorial wink from Phil to Margaret in recognition of an impressive collaboration.
Janet joined Margaret at the piano for three poems arranged by Finzi.
'Oh Fair to See' ( . . . 'Blossom-laden cherry tree'), written by Christina Rosetti in 1893, a year before she died, and set to music by Finzi in 1929, was slow and beautiful.  Other voices can be used for this, but Janet's soprano suited it well.  Janet's singing about that cherry tree was very pleasing.
Ivor Gurney
Ivor Gurney's songs definitely suit the male voice.  At the beginning of February this year Iain McDonald (no relation to Janet as far as I know) sang Gurney's 'Sally Gardens' and 'Walking Song'.   ( See Piano and Baritone at Glenorchy Wednesday 2 February )  During the time that Gurney was incarcerated in the Dartford Mental Hospital after the First World War, Finzi worked with Gurney's editor Marion Scott to preserve Gurney's works.  For the next number, Janet chose the one song by Gurney that Finzi set to music himself: 'Only the Wanderer'.  Finzi set this poem to music in 1925, without knowing that Gurney had made his own setting.  The long drawn out notes particularly suited Janet's voice and singing style and Margaret made the most of the lingering conclusion on the piano.  Piano and voice combined perfectly to evoke the rolling meadows of Gurney's home on the banks of the Severn - to which he clearly wished he could have returned.
Finally Margaret and Janet gave us Finzi's 1940 setting of Thomas Hardy's pre-industrial Victorian poem 'The Market Girl' (revised from the 1927 original).  The poem is very pessimistic, like many of Hardy's poems, describing the girl as being ignored by everyone, along with her honey, apples and herbs.  Pessimism turns to triumph in the last line, however, as the narrator, by talking to her, has won the prize.  The fact that Janet was singing the man's line did not detract from the beauty of the piece.

For classical instrumental music Margaret and Phil joined forces again for an extract from Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.  This was originally composed in 1791 for the Basset Clarinet (fore-runner of the Bassett-Horn) which the contemporary clarinettist Anton Stadler could then use to demonstrated the very bottom C.  Phil was playing  his soprano clarinet and managed to evoke all the emotion Mozart originally intended.  He played the gentle Adagio, which is usually sandwiched between the lively Allegro and Rondo of this three movement concerto.  The emphasis was, naturally, on the liquid and sensual sound of the clarinet, perfectly complemented by Margaret's piano.  The movement was a 'transport of delight' full of sweet trills and ending with perfect cooperation between the two instruments.

All three musicians got together for Geoffrey Burgon's 'Nunc Dimittis'.  Sadly, Geoffrey died at the end of September last year, so this performance was a very fitting tribute to his life and work.  Composed in 1979 this follows the standard text from the middle of the second chapter of the Luke Gospel which describes an old Jewish man, Simeon, holding the baby Jesus in his arms in the Temple and saying (originally in Greek): "Νῦν ἀπολύεις τὸν δοῦλόν σου, δέσποτα, κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου ἐν εἰρήνῃ" [If you're just getting 'squares' that's "Noon appo-loo-ice ton doolon soo, despota, kata toh h-raima soo en aye-rain-ay" phonetically] ("Now you release your slave in peace, o Lord, according to your word") which was translated in the Latin Vulgate Bible as, "nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine secundum verbum tuum in pace".  The Nunc Dimittis can be sung in Greek, Latin or native language, and Burgon's version is in English and was composed as a theme tune for a television series - John Le Carré's 'Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy' - and sung against film of clouds passing over the Bodlean Library in Oxford by schoolboy treble Paul Phoenix (now a tenor with the King's Singers - Cambridge!)
Janet's soprano voice was certainly comparable to the young Paul Phoenix, beautifully lyrical, with each line augmented by a little phrase on the piano with the clarinet joining in too.  The final 'doxology', "Glory be to the Father . . . " ("Δόξα Πατρ . . . " in the original Greek [Doxa Patri]) was beautifully augmented by high sustained notes on the clarinet - " . . . world without end. Amen."

The concert finished with the music of Franz Schubert as advertised.  Margaret got her chance to play some solo piano - the sixth of Schubert's 'Moments Musicaux', which were published in 1828, the year he died.  The sixth had also been published as a single piece in 1824, when it was called "Les Plaintes d'un troubadour" ("A Mediaeval Lyricist's complaints").  Now Margaret could use the full range of volume of the louder instrument - interspersing strident passages with softer ones of remarkable gentleness.  Now was the chance to observe the wonderful steadiness of her hands and the firmness of her chords.  Every note was gently but definitely played - a beautiful sound you would never tire of hearing.

Finally came Schubert's 'Der Hirt auf dem Felsen' ('Shepherd on the Rock'), also composed in 1828, the last year of his life.  This poem is a combination of the work of Wilhelm Müller with two verses by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense added just before the last.  Schubert's setting was created specifically for this special combination of piano, clarinet and soprano voice.  Although described by Schubert as a 'Lied' (song), it is really an aria.  It was composed specially for the early nineteenth century Austrian operatic soprano Pauline Anna Milder-Hauptman.  Schubert's aim was to allow Anna to express the full range of emotions during the performance - which he certainly achieved.
The version that Janet performed with Margaret and Phil was the English translation.  The opening was restful and leisurely on the piano and clarinet, with Phil's clarinet giving way to Janet's soprano voice - before taking over again.  The soprano parts builds to extreme emotion, pleading and urgent.  The meaning is clear regardless of the words.  The clarinet part also becomes increasingly impassioned - even plaintive.  But nothing is constant.  A harsh trill on the clarinet leads to a slow downward scale which turns suddenly into a light and jolly dance, with the piano and voice joining in to celebrate the delights of the coming of spring.  A series of upward exultant runs for clarinet and voice give way to the climactic finish by Janet - but the clarinet gets the last word.

There was time for a brief encore - again composed for piano, clarinet and soprano.  The first of Frances Cornford's 1919 'Two Nursery Rhymes' is 'The Ragwort' which was set to music by Arthur Bliss.  (The second, 'The Dandelion', he scored for soprano and clarinet without piano.)  The description of Ragwort standing proud among the thistles and other weeds, and distracting and cheering passers-by, was gorgeously embellished by Phil on the clarinet.  Margaret's piano part was full of fun and lovely grace notes, but Phil had the last word once again, with an incredible final trill on his clarinet.

£600 pays for one box of equipment to save ten lives
Despite being a lovely concert, last Wednesday's Lunchtime Recital at Glenorchy left the impression that there could happily be more music included.  The Mozart Clarinet Concerto has two more movements.  Finzi wrote three more 'bagatelles'.  The song cycles have several more songs.  The sense of potential was deliberate.  A full concert, of twice the length, and including the same music and much more, will be held at St Margaret's Church in Topsham at 7.30pm this Saturday, 2 April.  This promises to be a wonderful evening of music.  Admission is free, but all donations towards the work of 'Shelterbox' in the disaster-struck areas of the world will be very gratefully received.  Whether you can make it to the concert or not, any donation to Shelterbox is always welcome.  Full details about the work of Shelterbox, and how to help, can be found at donations can be made to the Shelterbox hotline on 0300 0300 500.


St Margaret's Church Topsham Saturday 2 April 7.30pm
Franz Schubert: 'Shepherd on the Rock'
Soprano: Janet McDonald
Clarinet: Philip Bonser
Piano: Margaret Chave, Mary Pickard
Tartini: Concertino
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto
'Ruhe Sanft' ('Gently Rest') from his 1780 opera 'Zaide'
(voice, clarinet and piano)
Bizet: 'Chanson d'Avril' ('April Song')
Fauré: 'Lydia', 'Après Un Rêve' (After A Dream')
and more songs by Finzi, Fauré and Mozart
Admission Free - but all donations go to 'Shelter Box'
to provide relief to disaster victims around the world
(Last year's total £711 - let's do it again!)

No comments:

Post a Comment